Orthodox Observer - March 1999

at the Archon Banquet in Honor of Professor Elie Wiesel

Beloved Friends and Brothers and Sisters,

How fortunate indeed we are as the Psalmist says, how blessed, to have before us tonight, such a man as Elie Wiesel. Honored are we, who have but this material token of esteem to give a man who has given us so much. Prof. Wiesel has accomplished something very few people can ever hope to achieve - he has brought back from the fires of hell, a vision for humanity. He has faced the darkest demons of night, and shined the light of truth and hope upon a ravaged planet, upon a suffering people. Who are these suffering people? They are us. They are the victims and victimizers. They are the wretched human souls consumed by evil and hatred. They are the innocent living icons of God who perish in the flames of depravity and destruction. How extraordinary is the man who can cause us to look into the darkest night and find the light of truth, of goodness, of love.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." Elie Wiesel is truly blessed, for he has survived the bitterest darkness and become himself a light, a beacon by which we can find our way back to the true happiness of life, the "delight in the law of the Lord." He has reminded us what the law of the Lord means, having faced the most lawless chaos and human destruction. And we can see, I can see, that upon the mystery of relationship between God and man, upon the mystery of God's law, upon God's plan, "he meditates day and night."

We who call ourselves children of Abraham as well, children by adoption through one whom we call savior, must acknowledge the mother of our tradition. We are both of Athens and Jerusalem, and we must bear the burden of our own failures in the history of our culture, for we, too, are a portion of the culture that failed the true test of faith. So many who might have spoken the words of their own redemption, so many who might have spoken up to defend the faith that they had up until that moment claimed, those who said nothing as their neighbors were taken away remained silent. And their silence reminds us today that silence is a rending of the fabric of the veil of our human temple, a time when we failed most of all, neither ourselves, nor our cultures, nor our tradition, nor our faith, but most of all, we failed our Lord. In the aftermath of failure, in the gaping hole of horror and failure that rent the century from which we now depart, stands a man such as Elie Wiesel. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither."

I am proud that I have been given this opportunity, not merely to meet Prof. Wiesel, but to hear his voice next to me, reminding me and all of us, that there is honor in love only when there is respect for one another. Out of the darkness he has lived, he has brought us a way to find the true richness of heart. "In all that he does, he prospers," and so he causes us to prosper.

"The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; For the Lord knows the way of the righteous." Professor Wiesel has given us the wind, the breath of the meaning of life to drive away the evil that persists in our society today. His constant vigilance in speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, the weak and the persecuted, gives all of us the courage and moral direction to find within ourselves the Truth that resides in the heart of our faith. Whether Jew or Christian, Prof. Wiesel does not chastise the faith, but advocates for the quality of our commitment to follow our beliefs. The truth that resides in our hearts, in our faith, is the Lord's presence in our mind and our hearts, and our presence of mind to act in righteousness from our heart and with our heart.

There are those who did obey the higher call of the Lord, those good people who helped save our friend, my friend Yolanda Avram Willis, the Metropolitan of Zakynthos, Chrysostomos, and the Archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos to name a few notable examples.

Prof. Wiesel emboldens us to seek justice for all who suffer at the hands of evil. He does not claim to know every evil, every need for justice, but asks us to discern for ourselves the way to truth on behalf of good, on behalf of mercy, on behalf of justice. He calls us not to turn our faces away from the difficult vision of evil. He calls us to avoid the opposite of love that is indifference.

"But the way of the wicked will perish." The wicked will perish when we have defeated the darkness that resides in all who would ignore the Lord's call to justice, the Lord's call to truth, the Lord's call to embrace all human beings as being created in the image and likeness of God. As Orthodox Christians, we understand personhood as being based upon the image of God placed within each human being. And all of us, bearing the image of God are given the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom. Our freedom is to choose between good and evil, between conforming our will to the will of the Lord, or acting as individuals outside of the order of the author of all life, the sustainer of existence itself.

Elie Wiesel is a guide, a conscience, a "daskalos;" he is a rabbi. From him we have learned of a terrible evil, and we come to know it through him, that we might also learn from him of the redemption there is in the simple act of respect. In the whisper of a little girl comforting her brother in the shadow of death, in the wave of a daughter's goodbye to her father, Prof. Wiesel has allowed us to glimpse a glimmer of life, of hope, of honor for the noble dead destroyed so ignobly. He has allowed us to feel, though never to understand, the promise of our own redemption through the blood of those martyrs upon whom God Himself has surely visited the crown of victory over evil in His Kingdom. Blessed indeed, is the man who delights in the law of the Lord, and blessed is this man, for helping us to find the Lord again after the most terrible of nights. Blessed is Prof. Elie Wiesel.

[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 64 - No. 1157, March 1999, p. 6 ]